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Grants awarded for COVID wastewater testing program

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy as well as the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Monday announced that $6,539,138 in grant funding has been awarded to 20 recipients across the state to support a three-month pilot program to test for the COVID-19 virus in wastewater.

An additional $3,087,431 in laboratory equipment also has been awarded.

These pilot programs are being run by a network of 29 local health departments, 18 laboratories, and 125 university, municipal and other partners across Michigan.

Launched in October, the three-month pilot program supports local public health department efforts to coordinate with counties, universities and other institutions across Michigan on COVID-19 wastewater testing programs.

Local health departments, EGLE said, are a crucial part of the pilot project as they will provide local interpretation and drive local mitigation efforts based on the reported results. These local efforts have the potential to be an early warning system for the spread of COVID-19 within a specific community or for coronavirus outbreaks on college campuses and at other densely populated facilities.

EGLE has also launched a webpage providing an overview of the COVID-19 wastewater surveillance pilot project. The page will include sampling locations and testing data once it becomes available.

Funded from Michigan’s allocation of federal money under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the $10 million grant program targeted existing COVID-19 wastewater surveillance programs in the state to quickly establish a standardized and coordinated network of monitoring systems.

EGLE made the following grants and equipment donations to these Upper Peninsula recipients:

≤ $92,588 to Northern Michigan University;

≤ $352,721 to the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department to monitor sites with samples analyzed by Michigan Technological University;

≤ $151,929 to White Water Associates, Inc. in partnership with the Iron-Dickinson and Delta-Menominee health departments; and

≤ $118,000 to Lake Superior State University.

During the three-month pilot project, EGLE will coordinate sample collection, lab analysis, data reporting and communication with the local monitoring teams across Michigan. MDHHS will provide project support to participating local health departments, including how to integrate local wastewater data with other types of COVID-19 surveillance and public health responses.

Participating U.P. health departments are: the Marquette County Health Department, Chippewa County Health Department, Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, and Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties.

EGLE said testing wastewater for viruses, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, can be an effective tool for monitoring transmission of COVID-19 within a local community or at individual facilities. The virus is shed in human waste, including people who are not ill or have not yet become ill.

The virus can then be detected by testing samples taken from sewers and wastewater treatment plants, with results often being available earlier than human clinical samples. These results can then inform local public health actions to prevent further spread within that community.

For more information about EGLE, visit michigan.gov/egle.

Ice Fest postponed

Organizers of the Michigan Ice Festival said on Monday they have made the “difficult” decision to postpone the 30th celebration of the Michigan Ice Festival because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Upper Peninsula and greater Midwest.

“It is our goal to keep our participants, staff, supporters and local community safe during these difficult times and feel it only prudent to get together when we feel it is safe to do so,” they said in a statement.

The event had been scheduled for Feb. 10-14, which would have marked its 30th anniversary.

“For 30 years the Midwest ice-climbing family has been making the trek to Munising to climb spectacular ice formations above a frozen landscape that stretches to an unbroken horizon,” organizers said. “We planned a huge party to celebrate our anniversary. It was going to be one for the ages.

“Then everything changed. The world was different. We can’t gather 1,000 climbers in the Mather Auditorium to hear our heroes tell tales of adventure and daring. We’re not allowed to head down to the bar to share our own adventures with the dozens of new friends we made during the day. After 29 years of feeling like things would never change, they did.”

However, they acknowledged the Michigan Ice Fest is “more than just parties and slideshows.”

“It’s about the people and the place, and those things haven’t changed at all,” they said. “Our family is still our family, and the ice will still form. If we can’t all get together this year, it just means that we’ll have twice as many stories to share when we can.”

Organizations have compiled a 2021 COVID program at http://downwindsports.com/icefest/covidfest-2021-program/ where people can obtain information about the history of the event, an American Alpine Club membership drive, detalis of a photo contest, virtual presentations, an Ice Fest coupon code and more.

Organizers ask the public to remember outdoor industry sponsors this winter as well as the local Munising businesses who have supported the Michigan Ice Fest for the last 29 years.

The rescheduled 30th anniversary dates are Feb. 9-13, 2022.

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